Podcast 196 Engineering Ethics

RSS and Information and Blogs

I get much of my news through RSS feed. That may sound archaic, but it works. Originally I used Google Reader some 20 years ago or so. But that was detracting from Google’s business model, so they killed it. And I went with NetNewsWire. It was great. They sold it. Like almost all cool little startups now part of big companies, the product languished. I switched to Feedly, which I am still using.

The cool thing about RSS is that you get the news feed with just an option of going to the Website. With some feeds, you can see the entire article. With others, you scan and then go to the Website if you want more. I have a few subscriptions, such as The New York Times, where I have access. Many of my feeds are blogs that have no paywall.

The thriving blogosphere of the early 2000s (my blog began in 2003, I’m approaching 16 years) has lost some fervor, but it’s still around.

I started first in the control and automation space. Walt Boyes followed, but soon took it under the cover of Putman Media. The way all the blogs grew in the early years was through linking with each other. I would see a post and link to it with my take. They would link back. But when companies got involved, they didn’t want links to “competitors”. So much for growth for either of us.

Jim Cahill was next with his Emerson Process Experts blog. In the early days we would also cross link, but like everything that faded with marketing. His blog is still going and is still the best example of a corporate blog building a community. I tell people about it on all my trips.

The Apple computer community supports many independent bloggers and podcasters. They cross link and even appear on each other’s podcasts. The net result is that the entire community grows and thrives. So far, I have not found another independent blogger / influencer / analyst to interact with.

I bring this up while listening to The Talk Show with John Gruber of the Daring Fireball blog. He and his guest Brent Simmons (developer of NetNewsWire) are discussing the state of RSS, blogging, podcasting, and media. Brent worked at Userland and its blogging platform Radio which I used from 2003 to about 2007 when I switched to SquareSpace. In 2013 I switched to WordPress.

While commiserating about the state of trying to read articles on the Web, they miss the point of the business. Media is run by sales people. Salespeople think that long term thinking is 60 days out. They really don’t care about user experience. They look for one more idea that will sell one more piece of screen real estate and that maybe is obnoxious and the reader mistakenly clicks the ad instead of the close button and they sell a click. I’m not being cynical about that. It is the natural order of things when sales people (and I was one once) are scrambling to increase income through any non-illegal method they can find.

I still like RSS feeds. I no longer trust Google to uncover the Websites I want. And I’ve never liked the idea of having a list of Websites to methodically go visit just in case something new was added.

Podcast 196 Engineering Ethics

Google Ad Shakedown

Google and Other Misdemeanors

I have noticed that over the past few months, the number of people coming to my site via search engines, principally Google, has dropped by something like 40%. Curious, last weekend I took a little time and searched on about a dozen keywords that would be used in the industry.

Media sites just don’t come up in the searches. But what does come up are a ton of ads. The bulk of the rest of the links are suppliers. This is a big change over this time period.

Then I came across a tweet from Jason Fried, founder and CEO of Basecamp. He noticed that when he searched for his company, Basecamp, he came up number 4. The first three were ads from competitors who had worked the words base camp into their URLs or name in some ingenious way. And they had purchased the adwords that placed their ad above the real organic result. He explains all this in a podcast on Rework.

Back to my observation. I appeared seldom, except for my own domain name, and I never saw the major trade journals in the industry. Even ones named IIoT in a search of IIoT. Automation got three hits a couple of pages back on the keyword automation. But it should have had a bunch.

But suppliers are the most prone to buy adwords from Google.

If you think that searches are not biased and show you the most relevant to you, then you are years behind times.

I have noticed a similar effect in Facebook. Of course, its ad strategy came from Google in the person of Sheryl Sandberg. I did marketing for a small retail startup coffee house in Sidney, Ohio. Being local, I went to Facebook. I also spent a few dollars a month on ads.

When I ended the ad campaign, I was pestered with several notices per day about boosting a post for only $10, then for only $5. And our reach started dropping. Suddenly not everyone saw all the posts. The algorithm ensured that. When you’re in a small town with only about 1,000 person reach, you get pretty quick feedback.

Once upon a time, I mostly trusted Google search results. I use it for research constantly. Now, I’m not so sure about where to go for better results. Everyone is in such a rush to maximize ad dollars that they manipulate anything, including us, in the quest for eyes on ads.

Podcast 196 Engineering Ethics

Collaborative Robotics Offer Flexible Packaging Automation

That engineers would develop ways for humans and robots to co-exist, yes even collaborate, seemed inevitable. Why should we consign robots to cages as safety hazards when the future assuredly requires close collaboration. Therefore the burgeoning area of collaborative robotics or cobots.

I’m thinking not just about industrial applications. Robots surely will assist an aging population cope with everyday tasks in our (near) future of fewer people to populate those jobs.

Several of the “old guard” robotics companies have developed “co-bots” but I’ve watched the development of Universal Robots for some time. The company sponsored this blog for a while a few years ago. Here I’ve picked up on a couple of items. The UR marketing team was a bit surprised to discover that I have more than a passing interest in packaging. As a matter of fact, I noticed packaging as a likely growth area for automation about 18 years ago, and that feeling has been borne out.

One story concerns a packaging demonstration with a socially worthwhile goal mixed in. The other reports on a recent market study by ABI Research.

Universal Robots Solves Random Picking Challenge, Providing Food for At-Risk Youth

The challenge: Pick six differently sized food items randomly oriented on a moving conveyor and place each of these items into the same pouch. Then do this again 1,199 more times, ensuring each pouch has the same six items. This is the challenge Universal Robots and Allied Technology will address, quickly identifying and picking items – ranging widely from packs of Craisins to cans of beef ravioli – in Pack Expo’s Robotics Zone during the three-day show.

“Random picking is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after automation tasks from industries such as e-commerce, fulfillment centers and warehousing,” says Regional Sales Director of Universal Robots’ Americas division, Stuart Shepherd. “At Pack Expo, Universal Robots and Allied Technology will demonstrate how UR cobots can be quickly deployed in a compact, modular system, handling the entire process from box erecting, to vision-guided conveyor tracking, part picking, tote assembly, pouch filling and sealing, kitting and palletizing,” he says, adding how the packaging line is also a testament to the capabilities of Universal Robots’ growing number of Certified System Integrators (CSIs). “Allied Technology was able to quickly create this fully-automated solution. We are delighted to see our cobots competently integrated in so many new packaging applications now.”

Allied Technology and Universal Robots’ packaging line features four UR cobots equipped with products from the UR+ platform that certifies grippers, vision cameras, software, and other peripherals to work seamlessly with UR’s collaborative robot arms. The latest flexible grasping technology will be showcased by a UR5e with Piab’s new Kenos® KCS vacuum gripper  guided by a vision camera from UR+ partner Cognex.

Once completed, the 1,200 bags of food will be delivered to “Blessings in a Backpack” a leader in the movement to end childhood hunger, ensuring that children receiving free or subsidized school lunches during the week do not go hungry over the weekends. “We look forward to showcasing this demo that is meaningful in so many ways,” says Shepherd. “We are excited to partner with Blessings in a Backpack while also addressing the needs of the packaging industry with solutions that will simplify and fast-track cobot deployment on their lines.”

Unlike traditional robots caged away from show attendees, visitors to the UR booth are able to walk right up to the UR cobots and interact with them. The booth “playpen area” will feature several cobot arms including a U53e with Robotiq’s new UR+ certified E-Pick Vacuum Gripper, allowing attendees to explore on-the-spot programming. The gripper is one of the recent additions in a rapidly expanding UR+ product portfolio that now includes no less than 195 UR+ certified products with 400+ companies participating in the UR+ developer program.

Market Leadership

Meanwhile, Universal Robots maintains top spot in ABI Research’s Ranking of Cobot Companies in Industrial Applications; Doosan, Techman Robot, and Precise Automation are closing in.

This news originates with ABI Research. There are well over 50 manufacturers of collaborative robots (cobots) worldwide, but only a handful of these companies have so far deployed cobots on any meaningful level of scale. Tens of thousands of cobots have been sold as of 2019 and earned US$500 million in annual revenue for world markets. In its new Industrial Collaborative Robots Competitive Assessment, global tech market advisory firm, ABI Research finds Universal Robots (UR) to be the clear forerunner, particularly in implementation.

The Industrial Collaborative Robots Competitive Assessment analyzed and ranked 12 collaborative robot vendors in the industry – ABB, Aubo Robotics, Automata, Doosan Robotics, FANUC, Franka Emika, Kuka AG, Precise Automation, Productive Robotics, Techman Robot, Universal Robots, and Yaskawa Motoman – using ABI Research’s proven, unbiased innovation/implementation criteria framework. For this competitive assessment, innovation criteria included payload, software, Ergonomics and human-machine interaction, experimentation and safety; implementation criteria focused on units and revenue, cost and ROI, partnerships, value-added services, and the number of employees.

“Market leaders in cobots generally have well-developed cobot rosters, in many cases backed up by an ecosystem platform that integrates applications, accessories, and end-of-arm-tooling (EOAT) solutions in with the base hardware,” said Rian Whitton, Senior Analyst at ABI Research. With 37,000 cobots sold so far, UR leads, followed by Taiwanese provider Techman with 10,000, and Korea-based Doosan with over 2,000. Precise Automation, which uses an advanced direct drive solution to develop faster collaborative robots, was cited as the most innovative of the 12 providers, just edging out Universal Robots, who claimed the overall top spot due to their significant lead in implementation.

There are several companies that are too young to be challenging the dominant parties in the cobot market but are developing new and disruptive technologies that will allow them rise to prominence in the years to come. Productive Robotics is a case-in-point. The California-based developer has an arm with inbuilt vision, 7 axes for superior flexibility, long reach, and a very affordable price point, but has yet to deploy at scale. Automata, a British company that develops a ‘desk-top’ cobot costing less than US$7,000, is significantly lowering the barriers to entry for smaller actors and is championing the use of open-source middleware like ROS to program cobots for industrial use-cases. Germany-based Franka Emika and Chinese-American provider Aubo Robotics also represent relatively new entrants to the market who are building on the success of Universal Robots and are beginning to compete with them.

Perhaps surprisingly, while the major industrial robotics providers have developed cobot lines, they have generally been less successful in marketing them or gaining market traction relative to the pure-cobot developers. In part, this is down to focus. While collaborative robots are valuable, they generally suit deployments and use-cases with smaller shipments and a wider variety of small and large end-users. For industrial players like ABB, FANUC, KUKA AG and Yaskawa Motoman, their client-base tends to be large industrial players who buy fixed automation solution through bulk orders. Aside from this, all four of these companies are competing extensively for greater shipment figures in China, where the cobot oppurtunity relative to the market for traditional industrial systems is much less apparent than in Europe or North America.

“Though many of the cobots deployed by these companies are impressive, and they have a lot of software services, the high-cost and lack of easy use among their systems largely defeat the current value proposition of cobots, making them the laggards in this competitive assessment.” says Whitton.

Looking forward, the larger industrial players are likely to improve their relative position, as future growth in cobots rests on scaling up and large deployments. “Universal Robots, though likely to remain the market leader for the foreseeable future, will be increasingly competing on an even footing with near-peer cobot developers, who are already developing second-generation cobots with significant hardware improvements. Meanwhile, some more innovative companies will be able to accelerate adoption through price decreases, improved flexibility, and common platforms to retrofit collaborative capability on industrial robots,” Whitton concluded.

These findings are from ABI Research’s Industrial Collaborative Robots Competitive Assessment report. This report is part of the company’s Industrial Solution, which includes research, data, and analyst insights. Competitive Assessment reports offer comprehensive analysis of implementation strategies and innovation, coupled with market share analysis, to offer unparalleled insight into a company’s performance and standing in comparison to its competitors.

Mergers and Acquisitions Measure Industry Health

Mergers and Acquisitions Measure Industry Health

Here is a little bit of merger and acquisition activity of interest. One involving industrial cybersecurity; the other IT-oriented. Owl Cyber Defense and Tresys are coming together. I have been anticipating some consolidation in that space. Lots of startups. Can’t be that much business. In the other Dell Technologies appears to be rationalizing its organizational and investing complexity.

Tresys and Owl Cyber Defense to merge

Tresys Technology was recently acquired by DC Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and placed in a common holding company with Owl Cyber Defense. “The intention is to merge the two companies in the coming months, creating what we believe is the number one boundary security product and services company in the world. To both of us, nothing makes more strategic sense than this combination, and with DC Capital’s support we will be exploring additional strategic acquisitions to broaden our investment in innovation, geographies, and vertical markets. While we will continue to operate as separate businesses in the short term, over the coming months we will work on merging all operations and we will keep you fully apprised of those changes.”

Further from the message I received, “What does this mean for you? Both companies are fully committed to customer service excellence. You will continue to have access to our industry leading expertise in technology services and support; to help you select, configure, customize, maintain, and accredit solutions for any network separation issue. With our new ownership, there is a commitment to grow our international presence and resources, while markedly increasing the investment in R&D and integration services. You can expect to see an acceleration in the development and availability of new technologies, with deeper absorption of specific business use cases.”

The current plan with our investors is for Robert Stalick, CEO of Tresys, to lead the merged company. Michael Timan, CEO of Owl Cyber Defense, will continue to actively work alongside Bob in developing the vision, applying diligent process focus, and maintaining the sales and services engagement excellence for which we strive. “Our shared goal is nothing less than defining the future of network boundary security technology for the coming decades.”

VMware To Acquire all outstanding shares of Pivotal

I saw this story on Launch Ticker newsletter from CNBC.

Pivotal Software surges after VMware says it’s in talks to acquire the company.

Highlights:

  • VMware contributed to the formation of Pivotal in 2013.
  • Pivotal stock has fallen 66% in the past year.

Pivotal shares rose as much as 72% premarket Thursday August 15 after VMware said Wednesday it’s proceeding with an agreement to acquire all outstanding shares of Pivotal’s class A stock at $15 per share in cash, an 80.7% premium on Pivotal’s $8.30 closing price.

VMware also said in a regulatory filing that it has requested that Dell exchange all outstanding shares of Pivotal’s class B stock, other than class B Pivotal shares owned by VMware, for Class A VMware stock. Dell controlled almost 81% of VMware’s outstanding common stock and more than 97% of the combined voting power of VMware’s outstanding stock as of May 3. Dell and Pivotal are negotiating an exchange ratio for the shares.

The transaction could contribute to the further diversification of VMware, which has moved to collaborate with cloud infrastructure providers like Amazon in order to enable existing customers to run their computing workloads in whatever environment they like.

Shares of Pivotal have declined 66% in the past year. On June 5 Pivotal stock declined 41% after the company issued guidance that was below what analysts were expecting.

Pivotal went public in April 2018. VMware and DellEMC both contributed assets when Pivotal was established in 2013.

As a result of an agreement with Dell, VMware is the selling agent for certain Pivotal products, such that VMware collects cash that is then remitted to Pivotal, net of a contractual agency fee. As of May 3, VMware had a 16% financial interest in Pivotal and a 24% voting interest in the company.

In a statement of its own, Pivotal said on Wednesday that although it is in talks with VMware about a “potential business combination,” an agreement has not been made.

ABB Names Another CEO–Björn Rosengren Assumes Leadership in 2020

ABB Names Another CEO–Björn Rosengren Assumes Leadership in 2020

Senior leadership among leading automation companies has been regularly shifting during the past few years. ABB, Emerson Automation, GE Digital, Honeywell Process, Rockwell Automation have all experienced changes. Sometimes a few.

ABB’s board evidently didn’t like the direction former GE executive Joe Hogan was taking the company and looked closer to home to bring in Ulrich Spiesshofer. He accomplished some massive restructuring, but apparently his results did not match the expectations of the board, so he was replaced by Board Chair Peter Voser.

In today’s announcement, the Board of ABB has unanimously appointed Björn Rosengren, as Chief Executive Officer. He will join ABB on February 1, 2020 and succeed CEO, Peter Voser, in this role on March 1, 2020. At that time Peter Voser will revert to his position at ABB solely as Chairman of the Board.

Björn Rosengren (60), a Swedish citizen, is a highly experienced, international executive and leader of industrial businesses. He has been the CEO of Sandvik, a high-tech global engineering group, since 2015. During this time, he has overseen the successful implementation of a decentralized structure and improved both the profitability and financial strength of Sandvik. Prior to that, he was CEO of Wärtsilä Corporation, which manufactures and services power sources and other equipment for the marine and energy markets (2011-2015) and spent some thirteen years (1998-2011) in a variety of management roles at Atlas Copco, a world leading provider of sustainable productivity solutions.

“The Board is pleased that Björn Rosengren will be taking the lead at ABB, bringing with him a proven track record of value creation and exactly the managerial skills ABB needs during the next stage of its transformation,” said ABB Chairman and current CEO, Peter Voser. “After undertaking a thorough search, the Board is convinced that Björn Rosengren is the best candidate for the role. He understands how to establish successful decentralized organizations, empower people and demonstrates the culture of cooperation and high performance. Together with our strong management team, he will drive ABB’s strategy and deliver long-term value to all our stakeholders.”

CEO-designate, Björn Rosengren, said: “I am honored to have the opportunity to join ABB, a truly global technology leader, after I have completed my current commitments. At such a pivotal time for manufacturing industries, ABB must continue to best serve the needs of global customers with a unique technology and digital solutions portfolio to help enhance their productivity. I look forward to working with my new colleagues around the globe to enhance value through the delivery of the group strategy and fully empowering our businesses and people.”